Boasting an all-star cast, which contains nine of the top-10 women in today’s sport, the eighth Dubai Duty Free Barclays Women’s Open began on Monday. The tournament, which has won 13 international awards including its fourth consecutive “Tournament of Year Award” in 2007, is a must for all fans of the sport.
On the fast hardcourts of the Aviation Club Tennis Centre, fans will be treated to a sublime show as the best in the world battle it out for a share of the $1.5million (Dh5.5m) prize money.
The stand-out of the tournament is that it provides automatic entry to only the top-21 ranked players in the world so you get far fewer ill-matched contests, and you can expect ‘titanic battles from day one’.
As a result, tickets are sold-out quickly and the viewership figures from worldwide television audiences hit record heights.
Defending champion Justine Henin has claimed that the Dubai tournament is the second event that gets penned in her diary after the French Open. Considering she has won here four times in the past five years, she will be one of the favourites.
But while the Belgian world No1 will be keen to bounce back after an indifferent showing at the Australian Open last month, it certainly won’t be an easy task.
Maria Sharapova, who so brilliantly captured the Australian Open crown is, on current form, Henin’s biggest threat. Blessed with good looks and an even better game, she has made the most of her talents both on and off the court.
Although Sharapova earns more money through lucrative sponsorship and modelling deals, at 20 years of age she has already won 17 titles, including three Grand Slams and is not one to take lightly.
Time taken off through injury in the past season seems to have paid dividends for the Russian, who is unbeaten this year.
Her compatriot and world No2 Svetlana Kuznetsova is no pushover either. Like Henin, she is a technical and powerful player and will look to gain points to cement her place in the rankings after her lead was cut down by the chasing pack in recent months.
The Serbian duo, in Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic, ranked third and fourth respectively, are pretty impressive. Ivanovic was a losing finalist in Melbourne and both should be there or thereabouts at the end of the week.
In a discussion on title challengers one name has to feature – Serena Williams. The American can never be written off and, on her day, is unstoppable.
Attend any tournament in the world where Sharapova is competing, and she is usually the centre of attention – not so in Dubai. The large Indian expat population has boosted the popularity of Sania Mirza here, so much so that it should feel like home.
Ironically, it just might become that after Mirza announced she wouldn’t play in India. Outside of the Subcontinent, she is unlikely to get a fanbase like Dubai, and she will take advantage of this.
Tickets are sold out, but you are likely to find some advertised on classified websites. The marketplace pages on Facebook and Dubizzle are a good place to start.
Who else to look out for...
With so many quality Russian players dominating the women’s circuit, the No6 ranked star has found it hard to grab the headlines despite impressive results. The 20-year old has won seven career titles including the Open Gaz de France in Paris this month and on the rich vein of form she is in you can’t write her off for a surprise title victory this week.
The Ukrainian can just about sneak into the Dubai tournament on automatic qualification, but if she plays to her full potential she won’t need to sneak out. With three WTA and eight ITF titles as a doubles player, she is quite accomplished in that form of the game, but will now need to transfer her skills to develop what could be a promising singles career.
The 19 years old has been climbing the rankings steadily since last year. Now ranked No18 after being outside the top 40 last June, the Hungarian is certainly one to keep an eye on. Quite capable of holding her own in the star-studded entry list here, she will look to continue her meteoric rise with quality victories. But can she go all the way? Only time will tell.
‘Titanic battles from day one’